The beauty of holiness

A few days ago the Owl put up a squib entitled “In their own lands,” which brought interesting comments from two readers, -N- and Katherine. The Owl has grappled with the questions involved for years, and didn’t get around to a good reply in time. Hence this separate post, addressed to them and to all our readers, and which is still not final.

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Thank you for your comments, Katherine and -N-. I think when you, Katherine, describe worship being both emotional and intellectual, you are reaching toward something close to what -N- means by understanding the human spirit on a nonverbal, symbolic level. Both of you know we are multi-layered creatures. I think you both know that inward gnawing St. Augustine described in his Confessions, which is never quiet until we find rest in God. Faith is neither one thing nor the other; neither an intellectual understanding nor an emotional state, though it is certainly something to know about, and have feelings about. Once that blessed dispensation has taken place, the beauty of holiness will take care of itself.

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In their own lands

By now readers will have seen that the Owl questions the relationship between faith and our ostensibly Christian culture. Most people: citizens, migrants, resident aliens, and dissenters of all kinds, participate in it comfortably enough to get along, if only by virtue of history, ancestry, and habit. When the Owl began his travels to foreign parts (1989), he carried his skepticism with him and tried to apply it in those unfamiliar places. A strange thing happened. He could not help admiring what he saw of churches, wherever he went. Not that his destinations were so exotic; at first we visited only the UK and Italy.

As it happened, the first worship service I ever attended outside the United States was Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. There was a powerful modern organ prelude (though I wrote to ask, I could never find out the composer or name of the piece), followed by an aria of Mendelssohn sung by a boy soprano. That latter, a single voice resonating in the tremendous space was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I embarrassed myself and those around me by shedding copious tears.

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